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Merrimack Valley

June 6, 2014

Zimmer had strong local connections

For those with an understanding of baseball and its rich history, it’s been a tough couple of days.

Don Zimmer, one of baseball’s great storytellers, spent 66 years in professional baseball, including nine years coaching or managing the Boston Red Sox. He died Wednesday at age 83 at his home in St. Petersburg, Fla.

The news particularly hit hard around here.

Zimmer often came to Windham to visit daughter Donna Mollica’s family. That includes her husband Dave and their daughter Whitney.

A dozen years ago, Zimmer Field was dedicated at Griffin Park. Then-Yankees manager Joe Torre made the trip up for the occasion.

In 2006, Windham postmaster Donald Snow presented Zimmer with an oversized replica of a stamp commemorating 100 years of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”

Salem resident Dave Bettencourt called Zimmer his friend.

Bettencourt, a well-known high school baseball coach and hitting instructor, and Zimmer met through their offspring.

Bettencourt’s daughter Katie and Zimmer’s granddaughter Whitney played softball at Salem High School. They continued as teammates at UMass Amherst, where both were Atlantic-10 Conference Players of the Year.

Today, Whitney is head coach of the Worcester Poly-Tech softball team and Katie is her top assistant.

“I feel so lucky to have known Zim,” Bettencourt said. “Like people have said, he’s the best storyteller I’ve ever heard. He had a story about everybody. It’s amazing. But what’s even more amazing is he never told the same story twice.”

One of the funniest stories he heard from Zimmer was recounted yesterday on ESPN.

Zimmer’s American Legion team won a national title. Babe Ruth spoke to the team at the awards banquet and gave each teenager a signed baseball.

“Zim said he and his friends were going to play baseball near his home when they realized they didn’t have a baseball,” Bettencourt said. “Zim said he went into his bedroom at home and grabbed the ball signed by Babe Ruth — and they played with it. He said, ‘It probably cost me thousands of dollars in the end, but, hey, we needed a baseball.’”

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